hannahdustonI mentioned a day or two ago that I am again reading Francis Parkman’s magnum opus of the French and British colonization of North America.  I had mentioned the same thing to the Mothe over the weekend, remarking on the carnage and brutality of the frontier in what is now Southern Maine in the 1690’s, as place names familar to us such as Kittery, Wells and York, and outposts such as Fort Loyal – located on what is now India Street in Portland, were successively ravaged by French raiders and their Abenaki allies.

The Mothe in turn mentioned the story of the settler woman captured in one of the raids who, on forced march back north, rose up against her captors, killed several of them and brought their scalps back to Boston.

By a singular coincidence, I came across Parkman’s description of this incredible scene just after the Mothe mentioned it.  The woman in question was named Hannah Dustan.  Here is the story as told by Parkman:

Early in the spring [1697] that followed the capture of Pemaquid, a band of Indians fell, after daybreak, on a number of farm houses near the village of Haverill [now off I-495 near Boston]. One of them belonged to a settler named Dustan, whose wife Hannah had borne a child a week before, and lay in the house, nursed by Mary Neff, one of her neighbors.  Dustan had gone to his work in a neighboring field, taking with him his seven children, of whom the youngest was two years old.  Hearing the noise of the attack, he told them to run to the nearest fortified house, a mile or more distant, and, snatching up his gun, threw himself on one of his horses and galloped toward his own house to save his wife.  It was too late:  the Indians were already there.  He now thought only of saving his children; and, keeping behind them as as they ran, he fired on the pursuing savages, and held them at bay until his flock reached a place of safety.  Meanwhile, the house was set on fire, and his wife and the nurse carried off.  Her husband, no doubt, had given her up for lost, when, weeks after, she reappeared, accompanied by Mary Neff and a boy, and bringing ten Indian scalps.  Her story was to the following effect.

The Indians had killed the new-born child by dashing it against a tree, after which the mother and nurse were dragged into the forest, where they found a number of friends and neighbors, their fellows in misery.  Some of these were presently tomahawked, and the rest divided among their captors.  Hannah Dustan and the nurse fell to the share of a family consisting of two warriors, three squaws, and seven children, who separated from the rest, and, hunting as they went, moved northward towards an Abenaki village, two hundred and fifty miles distant, probably that of the mission on the Chaudiere.  Every morning, noon, and evening, they told their beads, and repeated their prayers.  An English boy, captured at Worchester, was also of the party.  After a while, the Indians began to amuse themselves by telling the women that, when they reached the village, they would be stripped, made to run the gauntlet, and severely beaten, according to custom.

Hannah Dustan now resolved on a desparate effort to escape, and Mary Neff and the boy agreed to join in it.  They were in the depths of the forest, half way on their journey, and the Indians, who had no distrust of them, were all asleep about their campfire, when, late in the night, the two women and the boy took each a hatchet, and crouched silently by the bare heads of the unconscious savages.  Then they all struck at once, with blows so rapid and true that ten of the twelve were killed before they were well awake.  One old squaw sprang up wounded, and ran screeching into the forest, followed by a small boy whom they purposely left unharmed.  Hannah Dustan and her companions watched by the corposes till daylight; then the Amazon scalped them all, and the three made their way back to the settlements, with the trophies of their exploit.

– From Count Frontenac and New France, Chapter XVII.   

Parkman goes on to note that the story was told by Cotton Mather, among others, who heard it from the women themselves.  They received a bounty of £50 for the ten scalps, and the Governor of Maryland sent them a present when he heard what had happened.

Truly an amazing tale from a remarkable time.   I suppose that years ago it was quite familiar even to school children, especially those living in the North.  Of course, these days nobody would dream of telling it them.

“IT IS DONE” UPDATE:  A glass of wine with the Irish Elk, who steers me to the most marvelous piece of historickal kitsch I have ever seen: